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Relax On New Zealand’s Great Barrier Island
– But Leave The Hair Dryer At Home

by Keri Jones 20 Nov 2016

Reproduced with permission - Subject to copyright in its entirety.

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The tiny Milk, Honey and Grain Museum is fascinating. The entry sign tells visitors the admittance fee is ‘a gold coin’ – via an honesty box. And once inside, you’ll find three interconnected wooden sheds filled with old household and farm implements, some still working, which tell the story of the island’s pioneer families.

You might be surprised at the range of industries that have employed islanders over the years, from whaling to gum digging. They collected it from the kauri trees in the 1880s and sold it to produce varnish, glue, resin and linoleum. You can learn about the shipwrecks too and see a bedframe that washed ashore. Apparently a live snake turned up once – they think it came off a boat from Panama.

The remoteness of the island has helped shape its history. In the main hamlet of Claris they still have a shop called the ‘Pigeon Post.’ Birds really were used to send messages, attached to their feet, to Auckland in the Victorian period. The island’s main roads have only recently been tarmacked and some communities, like the hamlet of Whangaparapara, are still only reachable by gravel roads. Islanders often travelled around by sea before the road. “People living at one end of the island never knew people at the other end,” Baz told me, “because it was a two hour drive.”

And there’s another thing that visitors need to prepare for – you won’t be able to use hairdryers or irons on Great Barrier Island. That’s because there’s no mains electricity. In the 1970s, Barrier had a large alternative lifestyle community. Some people told me it was a hippy enclave and that spirit is still alive.
“The people who come to live here are looking for something different,” said Kay Stowell. “They’re very independent and strong willed. This lifestyle suits them and people accept one another, even with all the eccentricities that in the city would get on people’s nerves. Here they’re tolerated because everyone’s like that.”

Today there’s still an active arts sector on the island. Artist Sue Roberts volunteers at the Great Barrier Island Heritage & Arts Village, which occupies a former schoolhouse in Claris. It was established in 2005 and the wooden building was moved to its current site then.

Sue Roberts

Sue says there’s a huge range of artwork on display, from paintings and metalwork to sculpture, textiles and ceramics. In fact, she says it was only when the Art Centre opened that locals realised just how much creative talent existed within the island population of 940 people. And the centre has encouraged even more artists to reveal their hidden abilities. “The Barrier lifestyle lends itself to artistic people. If you don’t think you have a talent, often just being here, whatever is hidden in you, will come forward,” says Sue.

Heading along the road to the main wharf, I passed a house with an art gallery ‘open’ sign. It looked like there was nobody at home until suddenly the artist appeared out of the depths of the garden. Sarah Harrison is owner of Shoal Bay Pottery. She studied art in Auckland before returning home and has now been here for 22 years.

Sarah Harrison

Sarah’s work captures the natural forms of the island, like the shells washed up on the beach or the native birds. Her studio has a lean-to filled with old televisions, furniture, crockery and toys – which at first glance could be a work of modern sculpture in itself. It’s actually a community up-cycling project. You can leave or remove items without charge and is designed to reduce reliance on landfill.

The island’s green and sustainability movement is well established. Locals have to produce their own energy, clean water and deal with any waste. Solar panels provide the electricity. At my accommodation, Bob and Tipi’s Waterfront Lodge, they turn off the wall sockets at certain times of the day and overnight. If you visit, you’ll need to plan ahead for charging your electronic devices.........MORE


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